Overview | ‘The Monk and the Gun’: A sly satire of democracy’s perils


(3.5 stars)

As “The Monk and the Gun” opens and we take heed to radio stories about upcoming mock elections in Bhutan, an aged lama, performed by real-life lama Kelsang Choejay, instructs his younger monk attendant Tashi (Tandin Wangchuk, whose shocking day job is frontman of the Bhutanese alt-rock band Misty Terrace) to convey him again two weapons so he can “set issues proper.” The aim of this unusual and probably alarming mission will stay a thriller till the movie’s climax.

Set through the small Himalayan nation’s transition from monarchy to parliamentary democracy, “The Monk and the Gun” affords a sly satire of as we speak’s polarized world. Written and directed by Pawo Choyning Dorji, and specializing in Bhutan’s preparations for the democratic elections first held in 2008, it shares the identical wry spirit and delicate pressure between custom and modernity that characterised the Bhutanese-born, American-trained filmmaker’s heartwarming Oscar-nominated 2019 movie, “Lunana: A Yak within the Classroom,” however with some added chew.

The central battle will not be between candidates however between the inhabitants of a small mountain village, who don’t see the advantage of voting, and the elections officers who’ve traveled from the capital to persuade them in any other case. “Why are you educating us to be so impolite?” a bewildered previous lady asks the bureaucrats (Pema Zangmo Sherpa and Tandin Phubz) who’re encouraging villagers to shout each other down at a observe rally. “This isn’t who we’re.”

There’s one other, extra pertinent query, raised by an American customer: “Individuals should be taught find out how to vote?” Properly, sure, in a rustic that didn’t legalize tv and the web till 1999.

However there are different classes to be taught on this candy, off-kilter comedy.

The American (Harry Einhorn — like most within the forged, a non-actor making his debut) is Ronald Coleman, whose identify is an unsubtle nod to actor Ronald Colman, the star of “Misplaced Horizon,” a fish-out-of-water story about Western vacationers who crash-land within the fictional Tibetan valley of Shangri-La.

This Ron has arrived in Bhutan in search of a Civil Conflict-era rifle that has by some means turned up within the possession of a rural farmer. Accompanied by his interpreter (Tandin Sonam), Ron hopes to purchase it for a collector again dwelling. However Tashi manages to pay money for the weapon first.

It’s an unexpectedly suspenseful shaggy canine story, in addition to a fairly humorous one, with subtly pointed barbs about American politics. At one level, a villager asks Ron whether or not he can share some insights in regards to the peaceable switch of energy, since he comes from “the land of Lincoln and JFK.”

America is a nation the place there are extra weapons than individuals, as one other character notes, in sharp distinction with the movie’s setting, the place acquiring one rusty firearm is troublesome sufficient. (It’s no accident that the gun in dispute dates to a historic American battle.)

“The Monk and the Gun” didn’t make it to the Oscars this yr, though it was Bhutan’s official submission. That’s a disgrace. It’s a sharper commentary on the up to date world than “Lunana.”

Although it takes place within the latest previous, at a time when the Bhutanese individuals have been nonetheless getting used to such American imports as James Bond motion pictures and “black water” (Coca-Cola), the movie has one thing necessary to say in regards to the promise and the perils of the current.

PG-13. At space theaters. Accommodates a big crimson wood phallus — a standard Bhutanese image of safety in opposition to evil — and smoking. In Dzongkha and a few English with subtitles. 112 minutes.



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